Code documentation is a set of instructions, a guide, or a manual that will help anyone in understanding or clarifying some software code that is already written. It also gives sufficient information about what the project is about and some of its features. Some may argue a well-written code is in itself explanatory. But the truth is that it rarely happens. Moreover, even if it is well-written, after a considerable period, the coder himself/herself might forget specific implications, not to mention the others using that code. Code documentation is done in a spoken language easily understandable by anyone. Documentation may be provided along with the code itself, or as a separate document.
What Is Wrong If There Is no Code Documentation?
We need to document code without fail for the following reasons:
- The coder, at the time of coding, will have all relevant ideas fresh in his/her mind. But later on, when they return to their own code, at least some of the points might look confusing to them. They will have forgotten many details and specifics, thus finding themselves perplexed as to why they inserted a certain line in a particular place.
- If the above is the case, then what about the others who might use your code? They will be totally in the dark. The coding documentation is essential for anyone who tries to understand your code.
- Sometimes your software might be refined or expanded by someone else. For their work to be smooth and less time-consuming, they will need the documentation.
- Usually, large projects are divided into smaller modules and developed by several programmers. In such a case, what you have meant by your code must be explicitly known to other members of the development team.
- It will also serve as a reference document for the future for anyone who may want any clarification.
Best Practices in Code Documentation
Now let’s see how to document code efficiently and adequately so that it is helpful to everyone using it.
- Proper documentation must be simple and easy to understand.
- A README file must be included so that the user gets a proper idea about the project and additional instructions like how to install it.
- Write it with the knowledge of what kind of person will the reader be: a developer or a layman? Write it for the intended audience to benefit from it. While an ordinary user will be interested in the ‘What,’ a software maintenance technician will be concerned about the ‘how.’
- It should be brief and not wordy or lengthy.
- The documentation must be consistent throughout.
Tools for Code Documentation
In the past, all documentation had to be done manually, which was a cumbersome task. Today, we have a lot of efficient software tools for documenting code. As we code, these tools extract information from it and prepare the documentation to present it in the text format. Let’s have a look at some useful and frequently used tools for this purpose.
- LiveEdu not only helps you document your code, but also broadcasts your project using LiveCoding.
- MarkDown is basically a Text-HTML editor. However, it is excellent as a documentation tool, too.
- LaTex is most helpful in documenting core scientific projects. However, it may be used for general purposes as well without much problem.
- Doxygen helps in documenting the source code. An advantage is that it is uniform throughout.
Working on any software is a hefty task for any coder, while dealing with the work done by others is even harder. Thus, for the creation of uniform and universally understandable documentation, code documentation has been invented. It allows coders to access the intricacies of other coders’ work and repair, refine, extend, or alter what is needed without rewriting the entire program from scratch.